An interview with Lucy Rose Fischer

What inspired your story?

I had the first spark of an idea for a book on my brother sometime in the mid- to late 1980s. I was at a life history conference in St Antonio, TX where I heard an author (it might have been Tim O’Brien) sharing his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. I thought my brother’s story would be different. 

My big brother, Jerry Rose, was a journalist in Vietnam in the early 1960s. He also served for a while as an advisor to the Vietnamese Prime Minister. 

When my brother died there in 1965 in a plane crash, he left behind a treasure trove of journals, letters, and other writings—all of which my sister-in-law had carefully saved. He was only 31.

When did you start writing this book?

I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. I think I wrote the first draft around 1990. I had a job directing research studies and took half-time off for seven months to work on the book. I wrote the first draft as a biography. 

I was a PhD sociologist, so I approached this book as I had my other books that were research studies. But the manuscript needed a lot of work and I ran out of time. I had to get back to my paid career.

My sister-in-law had helped copy hundreds of pages of my brother’s writing. But she was uncomfortable with my telling so much about her life. She was a shy person.

I ended up putting the book project aside for 25 years. Everything sat in two big file drawers.

When did you come back to the project?

It was after my sister-in-law died and their daughter and son were planning to send all his papers to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. I started pulling out my old manuscript and copies of other documents and got excited all over again about my brother’s story.

My brother was a fascinating person. He was a painter and a writer. Going to Vietnam was a way to gather material for his art and his fiction.  Initially, he was hired to teach English at the University of Hue. Vietnam had been a French colony, and Jerry spoke French because he had studied at the Sorbonne. He quickly became immersed in Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. He had a Vietnamese blood brother and was adopted into their family.

He became a journalist almost by accident when a friend asked him to take over his position as a stringer—a freelance journalist.

He did his own photography—because he was also an artist. 

Where were his stories published?

For much of the time, he was a stringer—so he wrote for different publications—Time, The New York Times, The Reporter, New Republic, and The Saturday Evening Post. He even did some broadcasts for ABC News – though my family never caught any of his live broadcasts. For a while, he had a staff position at Time-Life, but he found Time too conservative and constricting.

He published the first major story about US troops fighting in Vietnam – it was a cover story for The Saturday Evening Post, with his color photos. He liked to follow stories on his own—embed himself with troops and interview villagers. That was pretty unusual for his time.

He also published fiction in literary magazines. Just before he died, he had two books published —one was a book of photographs, Face of Anguish, and the other, Reported to Be Alive, was a book about an NBC cameraman who had been held captive by communist guerrillas in Laos. He was the ghost writer for that book. 

Are you a ghost-writer for your brother’s book?

I think this book gives a whole new meaning to the term “ghost-written.” I’ve written this book in my brother’s voice and listed him as first author.

My brother was a wonderful writer, so chunks of the book are drawn from his journals and letters. But a lot of the writing is mine. 

It was an unusual choice to write this in his voice. It was his story and I wanted him to tell his own story, in the form of a memoir. I wrote it in present tense, as if the reader would be experiencing events along with him. That also felt right to me—because I had written my last two books in present tense.

My brother had been my mentor. He encouraged me to write. 

The odd thing was—it was as if he trained me to do this—to write this book for him. While I was working on this, I felt that he was sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear. I could hear his voice.

  1. What was your relationship like with your brother?

We had a very special relationship. He was eleven years older and almost a quasi-father—but a distant quasi-father because he left for college when I was only seven.

When I was a little girl and he’d come home, he would read poetry to me. When I was a teenager, he gave me long reading lists and he critiqued my writing. 

I visited him and his family in Asia while he was there.

A couple weeks before he died, he sent me a very long letter with all sorts of advice. I was turning 21 and just about to get married and he wrote how important it was for a woman to have a career independent of her husband. This was in 1965—a feminist and unusual perspective for that time.

Did you follow his advice?

I really did. In fact, I decided to get a Masters in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. And later, a PhD in Sociology. My brother has had a huge influence on me, all my life.

My career has been different from my brother’s. And I’ve lived much, much longer than he did. 

Where did you grow up and where are you living now?

Both my brother and I grew up in Gloversville—a small town in Upper New York State, north of Albany. It’s a pretty conservative small town, and not doing well economically.  But it’s a lovely area, in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

I’ve been living in Minneapolis for the last 40 years. I had a long career as a sociologist, specializing in the study of aging. A little more than 15 years ago, I decided to launch a career as an artist. I started painting upside down, inside out and backwards on hand blown glass. 

A lot of my work is very colorful and whimsical, and a lot is about growing older. My last two books are whimsical picture books for adults—I’M NEW AT BEING OLD and GROW OLD WITH ME. Both books have won awards.

What do you think your brother would say about your new book—The Journalist? 

This book is coming out almost exactly 55 years after Jerry died. I think my brother would wonder – “What took you so long?”

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